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The Life Cycle Of A Pimple

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

Maintaining a clear complexion is never an easy task. One day your face is blemish-free and the next, a bright red pimple is in the middle of your forehead. While there are many reasons why you might be experiencing abreakout, have no fear, I'm here to answer your most pressing questions. Ahead, find out how long it actually takes for a zit to surface, plus what to do when a pimple is ready to pop.

Why Do Breakouts Form?

Clogged Pores: Pimples and breakouts can occur due to the accumulation of debris in a pore. Clogged pores can be caused by a number of culprits, but one of the main factors is excess oil. The oil acts almost like a glue, combining pollutants and dead skin cells in a mixture that clogs the pore. This explains why oily and acne-prone skin types tend to go hand-in-hand.

Excessive Face Washing: Washing your face is a great way to keep your skin’s surface clean, but doing it too often can actually make things worse. If you experience oily skin, it’s important to find a balance when washing your face. You will want to cleanse your complexion of the excess oil but not strip it completely, as this may result in increased oil production. 

Fluctuating Hormone Levels: Speaking of excess oil, your hormones can be to blame for an increased oil production as well. There are several causes for pimples, however most pimples are caused by changing hormone levels. During puberty the increase in male hormones can cause the adrenal glands to go into overdrive causing breakouts.

Lack of Exfoliation: How often are you exfoliating? If you’re not sloughing away dead cells on your skin’s surface often enough, you could be at a higher risk of experiencing clogged pores. Another reason for breakouts is when the pores on your skin become blocked causing a buildup of oil, dirt and bacteria. Sometimes dead skin cells are not shed. They remain in the pores and get stuck together by sebum causing a blockage in the pore. It then becomes infected and a pimple develops.

The Early Stages of a Pimple

Not every blemish has the exact same life span — some papules never turn into pustules, nodules or cysts. What’s more, every type of acne blemish requires a certain type of care. It’s important to understand what kind of pimple you’re dealing with first, along with your skin type.

As you can guess, breakouts appear differently and vary in severity depending on where they are. There are areas of the body where blemishes appear more commonly. Typically these are areas where you have the most oil glands, such as the face, neck, chest, back, shoulders and upper arms. The early stages of a blemish can look like a red sore that’s raised and slightly itchy. This is a great time to use a topical AHA or BHA product to help reduce some of the swelling and redness.

The Middle Stages of a Pimple

Now that your pimple has begun to form, let’s talk about what happens in between the dirt clogging your pores and you waking up to an angry, visible blemish. Over time, a bacterial overgrowth can occur and an inflammatory reaction follows leading to the classic ‘pimple’ you see on your skin.

Even though it may seem like your pimple has grown or doubled in size overnight, the reality is that it has taken some time to form and accumulate dirt, debris, oil and everything in between. This is why daily skin-care is so important. If you have acne-prone, oily skin, cleanse your face twice a day with a face wash formulated with salicylic acid. This will help to exfoliate the skin’s surface, removing excess oils and other impurities that can clog pores and in turn cause a breakout.

The Final Stages of a Pimple

Keep your fingers away from your zit. This is because popping or picking can make things worse and lead to permanent skin damage in the form of lasting acne scars. Within the last stage, inflammation will start to reduce and the pimple will not feel as tender or itchy.

Is It Possible to Shorten the Life Cycle of a Pimple?

Kind of. Using a spot treatment can help reduce the appearance of a pimple. The key is to help in the treatment of existing breakouts while aiding the prevention of future pimples. One product I rely on for this is the IS Clinical Active Serum. It’s a great oil-free serum that helps with both blemishes and signs of aging. This product is a targeted treatment with a combination of alpha beta-hydroxys and glycolic acid. This reveals a smoother, more even-toned complexion all while combating blemishes at the same time. The key is to help in the treatment of existing breakouts while aiding the prevention of future pimples.

What Are the Best Ways to Prevent Future Breakouts?

Cleanse Your Skin: The best way to combat and prevent breakouts is to make sure you are using a pH-balanced cleanser that is appropriate for your skin. Your cleanser is responsible for removing makeup, dirt and oil. My favourite is IS Clinical Cleansing Complex. This cleanser has enzymes and is formulated to help dissolve dead surface cells and oil. I suggest to everyone I see to do a double cleanse to ensure that the skin is truly free of buildup.

Exfoliate Your Skin: If your skin is prone to congestion, regular exfoliation can help prevent that congestion from escalating into a full-blown breakout. Exfoliate with an AHA or BHA cleanser like above, but, here's the trick, instead of using grains on the skin, leave your cleanser on like you would a mask. Up to 20 minutes will allow for the active ingredients within the cleanser to breakdown dead skin cells.

Also, retinol is incredibly powerful. If you’ve never used it before, you’ll want to ‘retinize’ your skin first by starting with a lower concentration of the ingredient and working your way up. Also, since retinol can increase your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight, it’s crucial that you apply a broad-spectrum SPF 50 such as my favourite Heliocare during the day.

Moisturise Your Skin: The final step would be to moisturise to maintain proper hydration levels. This way the skin does not have to work overtime to produce oil to compensate. My top recommendation? IS Clinical Moisturising Complex. It’s a great product for all skin types as it’s lightweight and the tiny light reflectors help to minimise the appearance of pores.


Our Deep Clean Hydrafacial and Signature Facial both help combat all different types of acne, blemishes, underlying congestion and blackheads. If you feel your skin needs an extra helping, these two treatments not only lift and remove impurities from the skin, but the post facial results will set you on the path to maintaining a good balance with your congestion build up and hydration levels moving forward, leaving it a lot easier and manageable for you when it comes to your daily routine.


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